Ofsted has launched a new power grab. Once again it is pushing to inspect out-of-school settings such as churches, after-school clubs, Scouts and Guides. Ofsted Chief Amanda Spielman wants to extend inspections from ‘main education’ – schools which teach five or more pupils for 18 or more hours per week – to ‘supplementary education’, which could include activities as innocuous as sports clubs or Sunday Schools.
There is no question of there being a real problem in the UK with Islamists teaching in both registered and unregistered schools and madrassas. Materials have been found which promote violence towards women and ‘infidels’, and teach that women are second-class citizens, that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, and that Sharia law takes precedence over British law. Recently an ISIS-obsessed teacher who taught at two Muslim secondary schools and gave after-school classes at a madrassa was found guilty of training more than 100 children in violence.
But this does not mean that Ofsted needs more powers. It is already able to make an unannounced inspection of suspected unregistered schools, to inspect and seize materials and to work with local authorities, the police and Crown Prosecution Service, either to force such schools to register or to close them down, powers which it has begun to use very successfully.
This is what its specialist unit was set up in January 2016 to do. Thirty-four unregistered schools have since been identified which have either reformed and registered, or shut down. Orthodox Jewish schools have been targeted, as well as madrassas.
In addition, if a school is in breach of the Public Order Act or the Terrorism Act, the police can step in under these laws.
Finally, it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered school. The Secretary of State for Education has the power to bring a prosecution against the proprietors. That no such prosecutions have yet been made is the decision of the Secretary of State, not of Ofsted.
The issue, then, is not one of lack of powers, but of their effective and appropriate use, directing them where they are needed – as in the cases above – and not seeking to overstep their remit.
This latter is the danger. It is that, as in the ‘Named Person Scheme’ in Scotland, these powers are used to infringe parents’ rights as the primary educators of their children . There is a very real concern that Ofsted will seek to impose its interpretation of ‘Fundamental British Values’ on innocent Sunday Schools and organisations that don’t conform to new gender neutrality and so called equality, diversity and inclusion orthodoxy.
It is of concern that the Fundamental British Values agenda – rightly set up to tackle Islamic extremism – has been hijacked by militant LGBT groups, which have the ear of Ofsted and House of Commons Select Committees, to use as an ideological weapon to prevent the transmission of Judeao-Christian conservative values from parent to child.
Teachers have already been disciplined, suspended or fired for not complying with the unscientific nonsense of genderqueer theory which teaches children that that they are not boys or girls but can decide their gender out of dozens of fabricated options when they get up in the morning, using materials such as ‘The Genderbread Person’ to promote gender confusion in schools.
Ofsted’s protestations that the new powers it is seeking would not be intended to investigate Sunday Schools, or families co-operating with each other to run a club for their children, are far from convincing. Once granted these draconian new powers by the government, it can use them however it wants. Indeed, it would be compelled to: the Equality Act 2010 means it could not use such a power selectively against Islamists without all kinds of potential legal challenges.
Ofsted’s job is to ensure high standards of academic and technical education. It also has a duty to focus on the problem of tackling radical, militant Islamism which is a serious and ongoing threat to the nation.
The Chief Executive’s recent call for muscular liberalism suggests that any further extension of Ofsted’s power may be used to promote progressive illiberalism, when what is required to defend our freedoms is quite the opposite. As I argued here, what the nation needs is muscular conservatism.
The Fundamental British Values agenda has already proved to be a Trojan Horse. Neither this nor Ofsted should be allowed to interfere with the rights of law-abiding parents to transmit their Christian beliefs and morality or their socially conservative values to their children. This is a battle about reality itself, and the sooner Ms Spielman understands that the better.